Thursday, 24 May 2012

A Single Treasure on Display -Van Gogh Museum-

Pollard Willow, July 1882
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

The newly purchased ‘Pollard Willow’, a watercolor painting by Van Gogh, is now on display for the public at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Although a watercolor, this work is a proper painting by Vincent van Gogh, and its purchase, the first in five years for the Van Gogh Museum , will prove an meaningful addition for the museum. Axel Rüger, the museum’s director, commented on this occasion that this work, as one of the paintings Van Gogh worked on during his stay in the Hague, would be an excellent acquisition.

Before the summer of 1882, Van Gogh worked largely in pencil and pen, and appeared not to have worked in watercolor often. However, from July of that year, he started creating sketches in watercolor, and a change is visible at the same time, from the portraits he had been doing, to landscapes; from sketching exercises to preparatory drawings; and from monochromatic, to colored work. Speaking in terms of Van Gogh the painter, these works were created in a period of important developments.

Letter with letter sketch from Vincent to Theo van Gogh, 31 July 1882
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
This watercolor depicts a landscape; a path runs along a river or canal, near which a tree -the pollard willow- stands, its top branches cropped. In the distance railway depot buildings can be made out, and figures of people. The sky is swallowed in pressing clouds; here is Holland’s specific brand of melancholy weather. In his letters to his brother Theo, Vincent van Gogh writes of things to do with this painting. In one letter, he refers to the willow tree on the road near his house. In another, he writes how pleased he is with the watercolor painting he made. The Van Gogh Museum was already in possession of these letters in which Van Gogh wrote of this painting, and the purchase of the work itself had been a particular ambition for some time.

The painting will be on display in the museum’s underground floor between May 10 and July 10, together with oil paintings from the same period, and related letters. Then, when the Van Gogh Museum enters a period of remodelling in September, the work will feature for another two months only as part of the exhibition at the Hermitage Museum. Because it is a watercolor, it will enter a period of ‘rest’ after this.

Not only the Van Gogh Museum but some others, as well, have recently created exhibitions centered around the display of one work in particular. In February, Madrid’s Museo del Prado featured Breughel’s work, the only just restored The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day, in its own room. A painting acquired in the second half of 2010, it was displayed together with image panels showing stages of the repairs and information on techniques of painting restoration. Then there are the National Galleries of London and Scotland, which recently purchased Titian’s Diana and Callisto, on display in London until July. This work will make a pair with the purchase made in 2009, Diana and Actaeon. Such ‘single treasure’ exhibitions tend to get lost in the shadows of large-scale exhibitions, but they may increase in the near future, with a goal of reporting on restorations and displaying new purchases, and for the sake of connecting museums and people.

Van Gogh Museum
Paulus Potterstraat 7 Amsterdam
(From Central Station in Amsterdam, take tram 2 or 5 to the Van Baerlestraat stop.)
Museum: daily 10 am to 6 pm, Friday to 10 pm
Ticket office: daily 10 am to 6:30 pm, Friday to 9:30 pm.
Shop: daily 10 am to 6:15 pm, Friday to 9:45 pm.
Museum café: daily 10 am to 6:30 pm.
Library Museumplein 4: Monday to Friday 10 am to 12:30 pm and 1:30 pm to 5 pm
Closed 1 January
*From 29 September 2012 to 25 April 2013, much of the Van Gogh Museum collection will be relocated in the Hermitage Amsterdam.